Ombudsmen in Australia

Ombudsmen in Australia are independent agencies which assist when a dispute arises between individuals and industry bodies or government agencies. Government ombudsman services are free to the public, like many other ombudsman and dispute resolution services, and are a means of resolving disputes outside of the court systems. Australia has an ombudsman assigned for each state; as well as an ombudsman for the Commonwealth of Australia. As laws differ between states just one process, or policy, cannot be used across the Commonwealth. All government bodies are within the jurisdiction of the ombudsman.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman is also the Defence Force Ombudsman, Immigration Ombudsman, Postal Industry Ombudsman, Law Enforcement Ombudsman, VET Student Loans Ombudsman, Overseas Students Ombudsman and the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman. Many industries, such as aged care, banking, energy and water, telecommunications, etc, also have ombudsmen or similar bodies that assist with dispute resolution.

Industry and organisational ombudsmen

Unlike the government run ombudsman services, industry-based ombudsman resolve complaints made against their members, who are required to pay a yearly membership fee. Industry-based ombudsmen generally operate according to a constitution and are claimed to be impartial in their decision-making. That is, they are said to not take sides—they are often required to act neither as an industry nor a consumer advocate.

Like government run ombudsman services, the services of external/alternative dispute resolution (ADR) are sometimes free for consumers. The costs of the ombudsman services are usually charged to its members on a case by case basis, or can be determined on the number of complaints that the company has received for that financial year. Generally the providers in a particular industry (for example telecommunications, energy and water, credit, insurance, public transport) are required to be members of an independent External Dispute Resolution scheme (EDR). A Board or Council with representatives of both industry and consumers as well as an independent Chair, is responsible for the operation of an industry-based Ombudsman. The Board or Council appoints the Ombudsman. Government or an independent regulator, such as the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) may be involved by approving the scheme and ensuring that it complies with certain standards.[9] Sometimes a Government Ombudsman is also an industry Ombudsman. An industry-based Ombudsman typically charges each member according to the number and/or the complexity of complaints it receives about the company. While the development of these facilities over the last 20 years has "lifted industry dispute resolution standards", the industry schemes have "stalled and cannot be described as world best practice".[10]

Energy and water

Financial industry

  • Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) is the external dispute resolution (EDR) scheme for all complaints regarding the financial services industry, approved by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). AFCA helps individuals and small businesses to resolve complaints about financial products and services and assists with complaints including credit, finance & loans, insurance, banking deposits & payments, investments & financial advice and superannuation. [17]

Other industries

  • Private Health Insurance Ombudsman
  • Produce and Grocery Industry Ombudsman
  • Public Transport Ombudsman: The PTO is a not for profit, independent dispute resolution body, providing a free, fair, informal and accessible service for the resolution of complaints about public transport in Victoria.
  • Tolling Customer Ombudsman
  • Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO): a free and independent alternative dispute resolution scheme for small business and residential consumers in Australia who have a complaint about their telephone or internet service. Established in 1993 by the Australian Federal Government, the TIO is independent of industry, the government and consumer organisations. The TIO is authorised to investigate complaints about the provision or supply of telephone or internet services.[18]
  • Oxfam Australia operated a transnational Mining Ombudsman service (2000–2009) dealing with complaints against Australian mining companies.

Other complaint-handling and review agencies

In some cases, it may be more appropriate for complaints to be investigated by the Information Commissioner (formerly the Privacy Commissioner) who investigates complaints about breaches of privacy; the Australian Human Rights Commission (previously the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission) which investigates complaints about discrimination because of race, sex or disability; or one of the other avenues of Australian Government administrative review. Review Tribunals can review the merits of an agency's decision, and they also have the power to change a decision.

  • Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT)
  • Migration Review Tribunal (MRT)
  • National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council (NADRAC)
  • Office of the Commissioner for Complaints (for complaints about Commonwealth funded aged care services)
  • Privacy Commissioner
  • Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT)
  • Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT)
  • Veterans' Review Board

There are also several children's commissioner agencies at state and territory level.

Complaints about the actions/decisions of the organisations comprising the Australian intelligence community (listed below), may be lodged with the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, currently Vivienne Thom.

Employment

Associations

  • Australian and New Zealand Ombudsman Association (ANZOA)[21]

References

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